Monday musings on Australian literature: NLA Publishing, and some free e-Books

Enlighten 2014, NLA

Enlighten 2014, National Library of Australia

I was idly following links around the ‘net over the weekend and somehow ended up at NLA Publishing’s site. For those of you who don’t know, they are the publishing arm of the National Library of Australia. I first mentioned them back in 2011 when I referred to publisher Alec Bolton as the person who established the Library’s publishing program. That would have been over 40 years ago. He was a lovely man, and would surely be thrilled to see that his “baby” is still going today.

NLA Publishing is a small publisher, producing around 18 books a year. As you’d expect from a cultural institution publisher, their books draw on the Library’s collections – and they accept submissions from writers who have an idea that uses these collections. Their publications, they say, contribute to their

aims of nourishing the nation’s memory, of supporting the vitality of Australian culture and heritage, and of demonstrating a strong national focus in all of the Library’s services, products and programs.

These works “selectively interpret the Library’s collections in order to contribute to an understanding of Australian history and culture”, and are also seen as a way of disseminating and promoting the Library’s collections and services. Collecting and preserving, interpreting and disseminating is, of course, the prime function of cultural collecting institutions.

“Australian history”, defined broadly I’d say, is their main subject area, but they also cover “natural history, art, photography and literature”, and a range of children’s books including “picture books, novels and historical ‘faction’”. Their books have won, or been shortlisted for, a variety of awards.

Dymphna Cusack, A window in the darkI have bought many of their books (for myself and as gifts) over the years, and have reviewed at least one on this blog, Dymphna Cusack’s A window in the dark. Other bloggers have also reviewed their books, such as Janine’s (Resident Judge of Port Philip) review of Craig Wilcox’s Badge Boot Button: The story of Australian uniforms and Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) review of Clive Hamilton’s What do we want: The story of protest in Australia. These are just of few of the many reviews of NLA’s books out there in cyberspace!

The exciting thing, however, is that many of their older books are now available free from the website in eBook form. Now that’s a bargain. I’ll share just a few here – literary-focused ones, naturally – to give you an idea:

  • Dymphna Cusack’s A window in the darkCusack, who also wrote novels, tells of her time as a teacher, including some of the controversies she became embroiled in while trying to offer the best, most appropriate education for her various students.
  • Rosemay Dobson: A celebration: There are several books in their Celebration series, covering such authors as Thomas Keneally, David Malouf, and Ruth Park. These small books comprise “tribute” essays on their subjects and can provide an excellent introduction to the writers. I’ve chosen the late Rosemary Dobson as my example here because as well as being a well-regarded poet, she was Alec Bolton’s wife.
  • David Foster’s (selected and introduced) Self-portraits: A selection of oral history interviews from the National Library’s wonderful Hazel Berg oral history collection. The authors Foster selected include Wilfred Burchett, David Campbell, Ion Idriess and Charmian Clift. (PS Just noticed, 10 May, that autocorrect had made her Chairman!)
  • Ann Moyal’s Alan Moorehead: A rediscovery: A biography of author, journalist, war correspondent Moorehead, who, Moyal claims, was “one of the most successful writers in English of his day” but under-recognised in his own country.
  • John Shaw Nielson’s The autobiography of John Shaw Nielson: Never published in the poet’s lifetime, the biography was included in the papers of one Harry Chaplin, a collector and “connoisseur of literary Australia”.

Presumably, over time, the list of eBooks freely available will grow, so I’ll be checking the site every now and then.

A short post this week, but I hope a useful or, at least, an interesting one.

8 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: NLA Publishing, and some free e-Books

  1. Very cool that I can even read these in the US! So many times what may be free one place is not accessible outside. What a great resource!

    • Yes, that’s what I thought Stefanie. I was hoping they’d “work” for people out of Australia. I felt they probably would, but couldn’t test it myself, so am grateful that you checked for me!

  2. Their art books are gorgeous. I’ve reviewed a couple of books about botanical artists, and because the NLA publishes to the needs of the book not to a price, they are printed on quality papers and are the right size for full page colour reproductions. Honestly, some of them make you want to cut out the picture and frame it.
    I have Looking for Rose Paterson in my TBR pile and the pictures are lovely. For instance, on the page about Rose and her seventh baby, there’s a reproduction from a B&W catalogue of babies’ needs, bibs, nightgowns, petticoats etc. Gorgeous!

    • Yes, you’re right Lisa, the printed books are gorgeously produced. I have Rose Paterson too, but when I’ll get to it, I don’t know! I love their cards too, which tend to feature those botanical and ornithological artists quite heavily. And why not?

      • Oh yes, their cards. I remember I spent up big last time I was at the NLA shop in person. (Which is a while ago now, I think it was when I did the History Summer School, just as Kevin Rudd took over from John Howard. I always remember that because we all thought that the summer schools would be cancelled because of the GFC but they weren’t, and my history one was fantastic. )

        • Yes, they are good to buy and have on hand. (PS I think you were in Canberra after that to go to an Exhibition? We met at the NLA cafe with blogger Matt Todd? That was a few years after Rudd was elected).

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